Monday, December 3, 2018

The 100th Birthday of Robert L. Heilbroner (And the Real Reason He Is Important)

Robert L. Heilbroner
David Warsh (who I have been reading since I was 14) at Economic Principals discusses Robert L. Heilbroner (1919-2005), author of The Worldly Philosophers: The Lives, Times, and Ideas of the Great Economic Thinkers.

He writes of the book, "Can there ever again be as wildly popular a history of economic thought as that modern classic?  The answer is, No, there cannot."

It went through seven editions.

Warsh reports:
So what was the shape of Heilbroner’s philosophical history? Progressive certainly, though perhaps more dialectical than linear...
A great deal has happened in economics since 1953.  For accounts of that, you have to look elsewhere. But for a romantic rendering of what went on in the first two hundred and fifty years of the social science, you still can’t do better than The Worldly Philosophers.
Note that Warsh correctly identifies him as a progressive and, yes, his book was and continues to be a best seller but what makes Heilbroner stand out for me is that he had the courage to recognize and speak the truth when it went against the bedrock of his economic thinking.

After the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union was teetering toward its ultimate collapse, Heilbroner admitted that Ludwig von Mises was right about communism/socialism and that it would eventually collapse.

As Gary North has put it:
Heilbroner, the multi-millionaire socialist and author of the best-selling history of economic thought, The Worldly Philosophers, wrote ...  an article, "Reflections: After Communism," published by The New Yorker (Sept. 10, 1990).

In this article, he made an astounding admission. He said that Ludwig von Mises had been right in 1920 in his article, "Economic Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth." Mises argued that without private ownership, central planners could not know what any resource is worth to consumers. With no capital market, the planners would be flying blind.

Heilbroner said that for 70 years, academic economists had either ignored this article or dismissed it without answering it. Heilbroner was one of these people. 
Then Heilbroner wrote these words: "Mises was right." 
As North writes in his essay, Heilbroner went on to promote the global warming movement (as it was called back then) and that the movement is not about global warming. It is about the creation of an international political control arrangement by which bureaucrats who favor socialism can gain control over the international economy.

So Heilbroner never gave up his globalist central planning perspective but for such a man to declare "Mises was right" is big. It provides us the opportunity to remind those that bring up Heilbroner that there was a time when he wrote great truth, recognized reality and acknowledged the man, Mises, who saw socialist collapse coming decades in advance.


1 comment:

  1. For Heilbroner to admit "Mises was right [about communism]" and then continue to act on his globalist/socialist beliefs means he was truly evil instead of just ignorant or stupid.